UPDATE: You can find this blog and others about idioms in our new GMAT Idiom eBook!
Prepositions in English display a powerful diversity of uses. Your preposition knowledge will most certainly be tested in the GMAT. In previous preposition article, we talked about the proposition “against”. Here, we will look, at the preposition “on”.
Prepositions on the GMAT
1) The CEO refused to expend any more capital on saving the failing divisions.
In sentence #1, the object of the preposition “on” is a gerund phrase, and in sentence #2, the object is a substantive clause. Incidentally, both of these are exemplary of idioms involving these prepositions.
The Preposition “On”
The preposition “on” literally denotes the surface supporting something (“the book is on the table”), and metaphorically, it can refer to a circumstance or the topic of a talk.
3) On formal occasions, the general wore his ceremonial saber.
4) An acknowledged authority on eighteenth century literature, the professor was asked to lead a seminar on post-modern poetry.
The three most important idioms involving “on” are
expend (time/money/energy) on
depends on (whether)
Idiom: “Based on”
First of all, the idiom P is based on Q means would literally mean that Q is the physical foundation on which P sits. This idiom is rarely used in its strictly literal sense. More often, Q is the evidence or philosophical underpinning that supports P.
Similarly, the idiom based on Q, P is a perfectly valid participial modifier construction. Again, Q is the thing doing the supporting, and P is the thing supported.
6) The doctor’s hunch, based on 25 years of research in the field, was that the new medicine would be successful.
Here, the participial phrase “based on 25 years of research in the field” modifies the noun it touches, the noun “hunch” — the doctor’s hunch is supported by his many years of research. This is perfectly correct.
This idiom, though, is wantonly abused in colloquial speech.
Both of these might be said colloquially, both are 100% WRONG. In #7, the team is not supported by its losing record last year — it would be far more accurate to say something like “Because the team had a losing record last year, we suspect that ….” The authoritarian speaker of #8 is certain not supported by his interlocutor’s bad behavior. Again, a “because” clause would be far more accurate.
Idiom: “Expend … on”
The verb “to expend” means, in essence, the same thing as the verb “to spend.” When we spend or expend, we are giving away a resource (money, time, energy, etc.) and thereby acquiring some good. In the idiom to expend P on Q, P is the “price”, the resource spent in this interaction, and Q is the good “purchased” with this expenditure. The noun form of this same idiom is the expenditure of P on Q. (For more on verb-forms vs. noun-forms, see this post.)
11) In the late rounds of a match, a skilled boxer will be parsimonious with powerful punches, preferring not to expend valuable energy on blows that don’t substantially damage his opponent.
Idiom: “Depends on”
If P depends on Q, then Q is the condition or circumstance that either will allow P to happen or will affect the quality of P. In other words, knowing Q will answer some vitally important question about P.
12) The location of their wedding reception will depend on the weather.
In more complex sentences, either P or Q — or both! — from this structure could be a substantive clause, most typically beginning with the word “whether.”
16) How easily a name is remembered does not depend on the qualities of that person.
17) What a person fundamentally believes depends surprisingly little on how much that person has in her bank account.
18) How soundly a person sleeps on any given night depends on what that person eats in the hours immediately before retiring.
Substantive clauses galore! This idiom lends itself well to them.
Know the idioms given in bold in this post. As always with idioms, read, read, read! Search for the idioms in this post in context. You understand English best when you understand it in context.
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